After 20 years, WTO members agree to first global trade deal

WTOCommerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma (left) congratulates WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo (right) after the closing ceremony of the Ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali.(Reuters)

The World Trade Organization's (WTO) 159 member nations on Saturday approved a deal to boost global trade, the first such agreement in nearly two decades, amid hopes that a deal to narrow the gap between the developed and developing economies could be reached in future.

"It always seems impossible until it's done," WTO Director-General Reberto Azevedo described the furious negotiations over the past two days, quoting former South African President Nelson Mandela who passed away on Friday.

"We have brought the world back into the World Trade Organization," a visibly emotional Azevedo said. "For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered.'' Azevedo who had been involved in negotiations since Thursday thanked host nation Indonesia, member nations and also his wife with a catch in his voice and tears in his eyes.

The deal slashes red tape at customs around the world, gives improved terms of trade to the poorest countries, and allows developing countries a waiver from the normal rules on farm subsidies if they are trying to feed the poor, a key agenda item for India.

The path to the Bali Declaration was not easy. After India and developing nations were brought around by changes in the draft text on agriculture on Friday night, the deal was threatened at the eleventh hour by Cuba and Latin American countries including Bolivia, Venezeula and Nicaragua who raised objections.

Sources said the language in the trade facilitation agreement was changed to address concerns that it did not indicate a lifting of the US embargo against Cuba.

The revised text was approved at a meeting of the trade ministers on Saturday at 10 am local time. All member nations adopted the Bali package consisting of 10 documents on trade facilitation, agriculture, cotton and development issues.

The Bali Declaration also includes five draft agreements on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), non-violation and situation complaints, work programmes on electronic commerce, small economies, aid for trade and trade and transfer of technology. It also asks the WTO to prepare a work programme for the Doha Round.

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